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UPEACE professor from Sudan dies of heart attack

September 20, 2011

Watch a video tribute to Mahmoud Hamid here.

University for Peace professor Mahmoud El Zain Hamid died Tuesday. Hamid, the director of the department of environment, peace and security, died of cardiac arrest after falling ill during a morning class. He was 48.

“Mahmoud suffered a heart attack while doing what he loved to do, teach,” read a statement on the UPEACE website. “He will be remembered for his amazing spirit, his soft being and his great smile. He was from Sudan. It is a tremendous loss for the UPEACE community.”

The Sudanese professor came to the school in Ciudad Colón, west of San José, six years ago. When he arrived, university officials told Hamid he was the only Sudanese citizen in Costa Rica. His home country remained important to his teachings. He was an expert on hydropolitics, environment scarcity and international conflict – all issues relevant to Sudan. Hamid was teaching a morning class on water, peace and security when he suffered the heart attack.

An in memoriam page set up on UPEACE’s Facebook page features comments from friends and former students, who praise Hamid for his inspirational, humble manner of teaching and relating to others.

One former student, Bianca Bockman, learned what happened while awaiting the birth of her first niece. During an “overwhelming” day, Bockman expressed her thoughts on Hamid in an email sent from the hospital’s waiting room.  

“I took more classes with Mahmoud in my year at UPEACE than with any other professor, and I can only say that it was a privilege,” Bockman wrote. “Mahmoud’s insight was unparalleled. He enjoyed asking the provocative, important questions more than he cared to answer them. It was not out of fear to commit to any idea, but more about his deep understanding of the complexity of our world.” 

Hamid spoke to The Tico Times two months ago, when South Sudan split from the northern half of the country. For more than an hour, he patiently explained the complicated situation, where “the south always represented a moderate voice against an increasingly militaristic government.” He was saddened to see a united Sudan fail.

His wife, family and friends still live in North Sudan, and university officials were busy contacting them Tuesday. Hamid studied political science at the University of Khartoum, in Sudan’s capital. A memorial for Hamid will be held next Wednesday at noon at the University for Peace cafeteria. The ceremony will be broadcoast live via the Internet.

Mohd Gamaleldin, a former Sudanese student at the University of Khartoum, met the professor several times when he taught in Sudan and later in the Netherlands, where Gamaleldin lives. Recently, Hamid invited Gamaleldin and another colleague at Khartourm to visit Costa Rica. In the invitation, Hamid described Ciudad Colón as a “paradise.” Gamaleldin lamented that he would never see Hamid in the place he called home. The professor also had been planning a trip to Sudan again. 

Gamaleldin asked in an email why death needed to be in such a hurry. 

“The timing was not right, the place was not right,” he wrote. “This death, this time is completely wrong.” 

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